Everything You Need to Know to Ace Your Global Entry Interview

Good news: The process is easier than you might think.

close up of hands scanning passport at airport
Kiss your days in the Customs line goodbye. | RichLegg/E+/Getty Images
Kiss your days in the Customs line goodbye. | RichLegg/E+/Getty Images

Since its debut in 2008, Global Entry has become the travel world’s most obvious travel hack. Hate lines? Pay a small price, do a short interview, embrace some minor Big Brother vibes, and you’ll soon be skipping the never-ending US customs queue and landing at baggage claim before you can say, “Anything to declare?”

Fifteen years on, Global Entry has been embraced for its efficiency and ease of use. Thankfully, getting access isn’t especially difficult if you’re willing to jump through a few hoops. To help you prepare, here's a guide that demystifies the program along with steps for what to expect on your road to the fast track.

people waiting in line with suitcases at airport
PeopleImages/iStock/Getty Images

What’s the difference between TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, and CLEAR?

First off, it’s important to understand the difference between TSA PreCheck and Global Entry.

TSA PreCheck means expedited security checks at 290+ US airports—you’ll (usually) wait in a shorter line while keeping your shoes on your feet, your laptop in your bag, and your pants held up by your belt. If you’re traveling with kids under 17, they get in on the perks, too. It costs $78 (down from $85), and once you’re approved, you’re good to go for five years. If you travel often but seldom go abroad, it’s a no-brainer.

You get all the above perks when you sign up for Global Entry, but you’ll also fly through customs and immigration after a quick stop at a photo kiosk when you get back to the US. It’s $100 for five years, covered by some credit cards, and also works if you’re traveling by land and sea. And if that process isn’t fast enough for you, US Customs and Border Protections has also launched an app that allows passengers arriving at participating airports to snap a selfie and bypass the kiosk as well.

You’ll also hear a lot about CLEAR, a private company that identifies you by scanning your eyes and fingerprints. It works in conjunction with TSA PreCheck and Global Entry. As of 2023, 53 US airports have CLEAR kiosks where you get bio-scanned, then escorted to the front of either the general or TSA PreCheck airport security line, depending on whether or not you also have PreCheck status. It’s considerably more expensive at $189 annually, though some credit cards cover this fee and you can also use CLEAR for fast access to other public venues like stadiums and arenas.

Simply put, think of Global Entry as having everything TSA PreCheck offers plus the ability to buzz through customs, while CLEAR is its own Minority Report-style thing. For our purposes, we’ll just be walking through the Global Entry enrollment process, but you can learn more about CLEAR here.

Filling out the Global Entry forms

So you decided you hate lines. Congratulations on that life-changing revelation. Now all you have to do to create a Trusted Traveler Programs (TTP) account. Once you get through that, it’s time to commit: Plunk down your $100, then get ready to wait. At the time this article went live, the processing time for approval was four to six months.

Once your number is called, you’ll need to schedule an interview. Just book an appointment at a participating airport or an offsite enrollment center. If you happen to be re-entering the US while your application is still pending, you can book an appointment to be interviewed after you go through customs at an Enrollment on Entry location.

female officer at border control
U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Starting the interview process

Once you finally get into the interview room, you’ve already been pre-screened to ensure you’re not on any international watch lists, terror-threat lists, or general "the-US government-doesn’t-like-you" lists. Relax—if you’re here, you’re basically approved already. Sometimes they even have your pre-printed approval paper face down on the desk when you walk in.

This is not a job interview, and it’s certainly not an episode of one of those airport customs reality shows. Aside from basic biographical information (name, birthdate, address, etc.), questions should be limited to the following:

  • Why do you want to join Global Entry?
  • Who is your employer?
  • What is your profession?
  • Have you ever been arrested?
  • Have you ever had an issue at customs or border patrol?

They already know the answers to ALL of these questions, so this is more of an integrity check. Don’t lie or try to be funny—this border control, where humor is as frowned upon as hiding a banana in your luggage on the way back from Costa Rica. Just answer the questions honestly and seriously and you’ll be fine.

Bring all the necessary paperwork

Although they'll already know most things about you when you walk through the door, there may be a few situations that need clarification. For example, were you ever arrested but had the charges dropped? Have you traveled to a restricted country (like North Korea) but had a legal reason to be there? They likely don’t have proof that the charges were dropped, or that you were on a humanitarian mission, so you’re on the hook to provide accurate documentation.

If you fail to bring the paperwork with you—including a valid passport and one other form of identification, like a driver’s license or state ID card—it could delay your approval.

Open up about any criminal history

Global Entry doesn’t delve too deep into your criminal record, and having one won’t immediately disqualify you. But you may get an interview request only to be turned down on the spot when they learn you’ve been convicted or pled guilty to a misdemeanor in the past 10 years.

Don’t waste your time: If you’re unsure whether that game-day public urination incident was an infraction or a misdemeanor, look into it before you apply. You can check and see if you’re eligible here.

female officer checking a father and son's paperwork at airport
U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Get ready to have your photo taken

If approved, you'll receive a nifty ID card (complete with a picture taken during your interview) in the mail within a few days. So, if you’d like it to look better than your passport and driver’s license photos, dress nice. Or at least don't wear a hat.

Be prepared to wait

Like we said, they only ask you a handful of questions; if you’ve got nothing interesting to explain, the whole event should take less time than an oil change. But that doesn’t mean you won’t be there for a while: You’re not the only one with a 4 pm appointment on a Friday, so be prepared to wait 45 minutes to an hour if you schedule your interview during a busy time.

If you can take a half-day off work and go mid-morning Tuesday to Thursday, you won’t have a lot of company. Also, airport locations typically see fewer applicants than city offices. Regardless, the wait to get through the process is almost certain to be shorter than the hours and hours you’ll save by not shuffling endlessly through unmoving customs lines for the next five years.

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Matt Meltzer is a staff writer with Thrillist and is looking forward to being that smug bastard who breezes through customs. But since phones are illegal in that area, you won’t see any pictures of it on Instagram: @meltrez1.
Andy Kryza is a former editor at Thrillist.